“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”  – Nelson Mandela

In many ways, these powerful words from our beloved former President encompass the essence of Human Rights Day in South Africa.  While it is crucial to acknowledge the past, it’s also essential to be present in the here and now and not leave anyone else in the dust on our way to the finish line.

Officially declared a public holiday in 1994 after Madiba was inaugurated, Human Rights Day allows South Africans to take the day off on the 21 March to honour the Sharpeville massacre and celebrate our Constitution, which contains the Bill of Rights. It’s one of the most important threads in the fabric of our democracy.

Of course, it’s vital to remind current and future generations of the history of South Africa so that the freedoms enjoyed today aren’t taken for granted.

In honour of keeping the true meaning of Human Rights Day alive, we’ve compiled some trivia and facts about this important day.

  • Rather fittingly, Human Rights Day is also referred to as Heroes’ Day. It sheds lights on the freedom fighters and activists who opposed the inhumanity of the apartheid regime and made the world take notice of the widespread injustice.
  • On 21 March 1960, The Sharpeville massacre occurred when apartheid-era police opened fire on 5000 people peacefully protesting pass laws. On that day, 69 people died, and 180 were wounded.
  • Struggle icon Robert Sobukwe is credited with starting the anti-pass law movement. At the time, Sobukwe was the newly elected PAC leader and an African Languages lecturer at Wits University.
  • Human Rights Day also coincides with the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
  • It ultimately led to the institution of the Bill of Rights in the South African constitution. It is widely regarded as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world and makes it easy for us to wave our proudly South African flags.

Today, while significant progressive steps have been made, the struggle continues for many South Africans who still suffer from oppressive structures that have yet to be dismantled.

So, remember to acknowledge the origin of Human Rights Day, and perhaps think of ways in which you can “enhance the freedom of others”.